The death toll of a recent plague outbreak in Madagascar is still climbing as the plague continues to spread at unprecedented rates. While Madagascar experiences about 400 annual cases of the bubonic plague, the recent outbreak includes cases of bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic plagues. According to the World Health Organization, the plague has left at least 67 dead and has infected over 850.
There have been over 850 reported cases of the infection within Madagascar. Of these 850 cases, about 560 were pneumonic and 155 bubonic. Madagascar is experienced in dealing with its annual bubonic plague outbreak; however, this year’s outbreak is primarily pneumonic. Unlike the bubonic plague that spreads from fleas to rats, the pneumonic plague can spread from human to human, thus making it more easily contractible. In addition, 35 of Madagascar’s 114 districts, including at least 10 cities, have reported cases of the plague. The combination of the pervasiveness of the communicable disease and the populated areas from which reports are generated have created fears among health officials. The recent outbreak has already begun to take on a new form than that of the annual bubonic plague as traditionally non-endemic areas have been affected. Additionally, reports of these infections emerged earlier this year than in prior years and have been reported in more urban areas.
After a Seychelles national returned from Madagascar infected with the plague, Air Seychelles cancelled all flights to Madagascar until further notice. Nevertheless, the World Health Organization assured that “the risk to international spread of the plague appears low.” Naturally, locals and neighboring countries grow increasingly anxious at the idea of a plague epidemic. In fact, the outbreak is reminiscent of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa of 2014. Nonetheless, Dr. Daniel Bausch, a virologist deeply involved in the Ebola outbreak, explained in an interview with NPR, “we certainly don’t need panic in response to the plague outbreak…In contrast to Ebola…plague is a bacterium that’s sensitive to lots of antibiotics. It’s not a disease that’s difficult to treat–assuming that you recognize it and get people treated.”
While the plague outbreak in Madagascar may not be a cause for panic, rapid response is crucial in preventing the further spread of the disease. If the number of reported cases continues to rise at its current rates, with the borderless world created by the ease of international travel, the Malagasy epidemic might put to test what Africa has learned from the Ebola outbreak.